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Biden criticizes GOP-led efforts to ban books

Books with LGBTQ themes disproportionately targeted by bans

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President Joe Biden at the Rose Garden of the White House (Screen shot/Independent UK)

President Joe Biden criticized elected Republican officials for the increasingly widespread practice of banning books from America’s schools and libraries in prepared remarks delivered from the White House on Monday.

Addressing an audience gathered in the Rose Garden for the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Teachers of the Year event, the president said, “Empty shelves don’t help kids learn very much,” adding, “I’ve never met a parent who wants a politician dictating what their kid can learn, and what they can think, or who they can be.”

By framing these policies as government overreach, Biden co-opted and repurposed the “parental rights” language commonly used by conservatives advocating for book bans.

For example, right-wing activists often argue that requiring schools and libraries to allow interested parties to review the materials made available to minors and lodge complaints with anything they may find objectionable rightfully restores the rights of parents to exercise more control over how their children are educated.

According to PEN America, however, the first half of the 2022-2023 school year has seen at least 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles, disproportionately targeting materials that include LGBTQ characters or themes or those that address issues of racial justice.

Explicitly targeting these materials for censorship are elected officials like Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his conservative allies in the state legislature, who last week expanded the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law (officially known as the Parental Rights in Education Act), which Biden has called “hateful.”

Critics have long argued the law, which will now cover all grade levels in Florida’s public schools, uses overly broad language with the specter of many different enforcement mechanisms to create a chilling effect designed to discourage teachers and staff from offering affirming messages to LGBTQ students or from serving openly if they themselves are LGBTQ.

“By opening the door to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement against speech that favors or promotes the inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals,” the American Bar Association wrote, “the law arguably runs afoul of the First Amendment’s stringent prohibition on viewpoint discrimination and imposes an unconstitutional chilling effect on disfavored speech.”

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The White House

Biden condemns signing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

National Security Council ‘to evaluate’ law’s implications, U.S. engagement with country

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Joe Biden on Monday condemned Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that the country’s president has signed.

“The enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights — one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country,” said Biden in his statement. “I join with people around the world — including many in Uganda — in calling for its immediate repeal. No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or being subjected to violence and discrimination. It is wrong.”

Biden notes “reports of violence and discrimination targeting Ugandans who are or are perceived to be LGBTQI+ are on the rise,” since MPs introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“Innocent Ugandans now fear going to hospitals, clinics, or other establishments to receive life-saving medical care lest they be targeted by hateful reprisals. Some have been evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs. And the prospect of graver threats — including lengthy prison sentences, violence, abuse — threatens any number of Ugandans who want nothing more than to live their lives in safety and freedom,” said Biden.

“This shameful Act is the latest development in an alarming trend of human rights abuses and corruption in Uganda. The dangers posed by this democratic backsliding are a threat to everyone residing in Uganda, including U.S. government personnel, the staff of our implementing partners, tourists, members of the business community and others,” added Biden. 

The version of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that President Yoweri Museveni signed contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Biden in his statement notes he has “directed my National Security Council to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda, including our ability to safely deliver services under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other forms of assistance and investments. My administration will also incorporate the impacts of the law into our review of Uganda’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).”  

“We are considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption,” he said.

Ugandan media reports indicate the U.S. has revoked Parliament Speaker Anita Among’s visa.

“The United States shares a deep and committed partnership with the people of Uganda. For more than 60 years, we have worked together to help millions of Ugandans live healthier, more productive lives,” said Biden in his statement. “Our programs have boosted economic growth and agricultural productivity, increased investments in Ugandan businesses, and strengthened our trade cooperation. In total, the U.S. government invests nearly $1 billion annually in Uganda’s people, business, institutions, and military to advance our common agenda. The scale of our commitments speaks to the value we place on this partnership — and our faith in the people of Uganda to build for themselves a better future. It is my sincere hope that we can continue to build on this progress, together and strengthen protections for the human rights of people everywhere.”
 

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Biden administration unveils new actions to protect youth online

Measures will seek to reduce harm from online platforms

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Segment on social media platforms' harm to minors (Screen capture/YouTube CBS News)

The Biden-Harris administration announced a slate of new actions on Tuesday that are designed to better protect youth on social media and online platforms by applying a whole-of-government approach to address issues concerning mental health, safety and privacy.

The White House noted that “undeniable” evidence links these technologies to the country’s “unprecedented youth mental health crisis,” with rates of depression and anxiety rising sharply among young people, including LGBTQ students, 69 percent of whom report having persistent feelings of sadness.

New actions previewed by the administration’s fact sheet include the creation of an interagency Task Force on Kids Online Health and Safety, which will be administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in coordination with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The task force will develop a blueprint for new research on the harms and health benefits to minors caused by online platforms, “recommend measures and methods for assessing, preventing, and mitigating” the harms, and “recommend best practices and technical standards for transparency reports and audits related to online harms to the privacy, health, and safety of children and teenagers.”

Work product from the task force will include resources for parents and legal guardians to better protect their children’s mental health, safety and privacy online, as well as “voluntary guidance, policy recommendations and a toolkit on safety, health and privacy-by-design” for industry, with the latter expected by spring 2024.

Other initiatives highlighted in the administration’s fact sheet include rulemaking by the U.S. Department of Education to protect the privacy of minor students’ data and address concerns with its monetization. The agency will also be tasked with drafting “model policies and voluntary best practices for school districts on the use of internet-enabled devices.”

Additionally, the White House announced, the Commerce Department will work to curb the online harassment and abuse of minors by “promoting awareness of services and support for youth victims,” while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will coordinate efforts with the U.S. Department of Justice on new approaches to “detect and investigate offenses involving child sexual abuse material.”

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White House announces new initiatives on homelessness and mental health

LGBTQ youth and adults disproportionately experience struggles with homelessness and mental health

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Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff tours the Chapman Partnership, a service facility for the homeless, Monday, January 16, 2023, in Miami, Florida. (Official White House Photo by Hannah Foslien)

The White House on Thursday issued separate fact sheets outlining the Biden-Harris administration’s new initiatives to tackle unsheltered homelessness and America’s mental health crisis.

The former, called ALL INside, will augment an existing federal strategic plan whose goal is to reduce homelessness by 25 percent by 2025 through partnerships with state and local governments “to strengthen and accelerate local efforts to get unsheltered people into homes in six places: Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix Metro, Seattle, and the State of California.”

According to data from the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall policy research institution, LGBTQ youth had 2.2 times the risk of reporting homelessness, and among those experiencing homelessness, had higher levels of adversity – for example, exchanging sex for basic needs and being physically harmed by others more frequently than their non-LGBTQ counterparts.

The Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law reports that “sexual minority adults are twice as likely as the general population to have experienced homelessness in their lifetime,” while “a higher proportion of transgender people report recent homelessness than sexual minority and cisgender straight people.”

Building on the Biden-Harris administration’s work addressing the country’s mental health crisis, the White House announced a slate of new initiatives that broadly aim to: “strengthen the mental health workforce and system capacity,” “connect more Americans to care,” and “create healthy and supportive environments,” each with specific goals and strategies.

While large scale studies evaluating mental health benchmarks have not often included the full spectrum of LGBTQ identities, there is strong evidence that “members of this community are at a higher risk for experiencing mental health conditions, especially depression and anxiety disorders,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

“LGB youth also experience greater risk for mental health conditions and suicidality,” NAMI reports, and “LGB youth are more than twice as likely to report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness than their heterosexual peers.”

Trans youth, meanwhile, are twice as likely “to experience depressive symptoms, seriously consider suicide, and attempt suicide compared to cisgender lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and questioning youth.”

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